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Conquering ADHD Procrastination and Overwhelm

Hey there, friends! If you’re like me, you’ve probably found yourself in a constant state of overwhelm, procrastinating more often than you’d like, despite having tons to accomplish. If this sounds familiar, then read on, because in this post, I’m going to break down why this happens (particularly for ADHD adults), and what to do about it.

Understanding ADHD Overwhelm and Procrastination

The first thing to note is that these feelings of overwhelm and procrastination are not your fault. They’re a part of the typical ADHD experience, and if I’m being honest, my personal ADHD overwhelm meter has been at an 11.5 out of 10 lately.

The feeling of overwhelm often occurs when we have a huge task or a to-do list that appears larger than our perceived time, energy, and resources. The frustrating consequence of this is that it leads to procrastination, a behavior that is deeply intertwined with overwhelm.

Overwhelm: An ADHDer’s Nemesis

Overwhelm happens to all of us. But, for us ADHDers, it can spiral into more than just a feeling of overwhelm. It can lead into a shame spiral of self-doubt which makes it even harder to help yourself get started. I’m sure you’re familiar with the narrative – “I’m overwhelmed because I can’t do anything right” or “I’m overwhelmed because I’m never reaching my potential.”

One thing I want you to remember is that overwhelm is nothing to be ashamed of, and it doesn’t mean anything about your personal character or potential… it’s just a felt response to a triggering situation. Nothing more.

It is, however, something that we need to manage. And part of managing this is understanding the role that emotional regulation plays in managing overwhelm and procrastination.

Procrastination: The ADHD Dilemma

Procrastination is when you know there’s a task that needs doing, but you just can’t bring yourself to initiate it. This is a common challenge for us ADHD folks. Interestingly, procrastination is not listed as a symptom of ADHD in the DSM 5, but it is mentioned as an outcome of our inattention.

There are several reasons why we might procrastinate. It could be because the task at hand is of low interest (and therefore low dopamine), it might be related to that familiar sense of overwhelm, where you can’t get yourself out of your own way, or, you may not know where or how to get started.

Building Awareness: The First Step to Overcoming ADHD Procrastination

The first tool to help overcome ADHD procrastination is to build awareness. When you find yourself starting to procrastinate, it’s helpful to ask yourself what’s going on. Are you unsure where to start? Do you lack the motivation to start? Or do you need some sort of structure or accountability to get things done?

Time Management and Productivity: The Antidotes to Overwhelm and Procrastination

Now that we have an understanding of what’s happening behind the scenes, let’s look at practical tools and strategies to help manage these challenges. The two areas I like to focus on are developing time management skills and creating a productivity system that works for your ADHD brain.

Time Management and ADHD

One of the key issues with ADHD is the challenge with being cognizant of the passage of time. We can easily get lost in a task, unaware of how much time has passed. To combat this, I recommend using alarms, notifications, and asking others to prompt you. I also recommend timing your regular daily tasks so you know how long they take. This will add so much clarity to how overstuffed your life truly is and it will make saying NO to new commitments much easier.

Building a Productivity System that Works for Your ADHD Brain

While time management is an important piece of the puzzle, it’s not the whole solution. It’s also really important to establish a productivity system that works for YOUR brain. That means getting clear on what kind of system would be best for you, and how you can best use it to help build external structure for yourself.

But here’s the thing – in order for ANY productivity system to work, it requires a rhythm and behavior in your life that supports doing it regularly and consistently. It also requires that you regularly come back to your plan, check on it, and update it as necessary.

And yes, I know I’m talking to an audience that struggles with building consistent behaviors, so here’s what I want you to do – make it fun and frictionless. Meaning, when you sit down to plan your week (more on this here), do whatever you can to make the process enjoyable. Here’s some ideas:

  • Play music you love

  • Do it in a space that lights you up and limits distractions

  • Set an alarm to remind you to get started

  • Use a pretty planner (or digital system that you can decorate)

  • Put your plan in front of you where ever you work – on a screen or keep your planner open to your page for the day

  • Look for planning inspiration (follow Youtubers that share their weekly process)

  • Measure progress on things that are important to you (I use a template for this to help my brain remember what to track)

Long story short, the more you can make this into a fun experience, the more likely you will be to build a behavioral muscle to keep it up.

At the end of the day, remember that feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating are part of the human experience, especially for those with ADHD. However, we can lessen their impact on our lives by developing effective time management skills and a productivity system that works for us. It’s not going to be a quick fix, but with patience and practice, we can all manage our ADHD procrastination and live a more relaxed, less stressful life.

Thank you to It's ADHD Friendly for the blog


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